Israeli-Arab actor killed in West Bank

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JENIN, WEST BANK (AP) - A well-known Arab Israeli actor, director and political activist was gunned down Monday in the West Bank town where he ran a drama school and community theater, Palestinian police said.

Juliano Mer Khamis was shot five times by one or more armed Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp, according to Jenin police chief Mohammed Tayyim. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the killing.

Mer Khamis, 52, was the son of a Jewish mother and an Arab father _ a rarity in a land where the two populations almost never intermarry. His split identity fueled a long career as an actor and a vocal activist against Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, with whom he had come increasingly to identify.

But some Palestinians objected to the theater in principle. He reported threats, and the theater was vandalized.

The theater’s program director, Samia Staiti, told The Associated Press that she saw the killing. “He was on his way to his car when a masked man stopped him, shot him and ran away.”

Staiti said he had received death threats from people in the community who felt he was going against “conservative Palestinian traditions.”

“They are trying to kill what Juliano tried to spread _ peace and freedom. We will keep on going on,” Staiti said.

He starred in several critically acclaimed Israeli films, and also appeared in the 1984 American film “The Little Drummer Girl.”

In 2006, he opened an amateur theater company in Jenin, a city that had been torn by violence since the second Palestinian uprising began six years earlier.

With the uprising fizzling out by that point, the company, known as the Freedom Theater, was meant partly as a way of restoring normalcy to the town’s youth and opening their minds to the world beyond the harshness of their surroundings.

In the largely quiet years since, Jenin _ like much of the West Bank _ has become more safe and prosperous, making Monday’s shooting all the more shocking.

Mer Khamis‘ mother, an Israeli Jew, ran a youth theater in Jenin in the 1980s. It was destroyed in 2002 during an Israeli military offensive against Palestinian militants, some of them young men who had once been actors in the theater.

The new Freedom Theater drew criticism and vandalism from some Palestinians who were suspicious of Mer Khamis, an Israeli citizen, and who appeared to see the theater as a threat to their traditions.

“We lack a culture of criticism. We lack a culture of free thinking,” Mer Khamis told The Associated Press in 2009, when his company put on a production of “Animal Farm.”

“One of our roles is to challenge this,” he said.

Mer Khamis said he had planned to stage “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” a satire of armed resistance, but shelved the idea after someone smashed the window of his car. The shooting took place about 50 yards (meters) from the theater.

Mer Khamis opened his theater along with Zakariya Zubeidi, who had been one of his mother’s former pupils before becoming a militant commander in the refugee camp.

“I used to do this work before the uprising with six of my comrades,” Zubeidi told the AP in 2008. “All of them were killed.”

On Monday, Israel’s Channel 2 TV showed footage of a pool of blood on the asphalt next to the actor’s red car. The killing led Israeli news broadcasts.

A Palestinian ambulance took the actor’s body to a nearby checkpoint to be transferred into Israel.

Jenin governor Qadura Moussa called Mer Khamis a “great supporter of the Palestinian people.” He said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told him to bring those responsible for his death to justice.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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